After a fairly broken sleep thanks to the papier-mâché walls at the hostel coupled with the fact we were more or less sleeping in the reception area we woke up still keen for a walking tour of the centre of Moscow. We have done a few of these free walking tours now but none when it’s been this cold so we prepared ourselves by pretty much wearing every item of clothing we had and set off to meet our guide.
There were only about a dozen others there brave (or stupid) enough to go sightseeing when the temperatures weren’t going to rise above zero and the wind was cutting through the layers we were wearing even before we started!! Still our guide was great and was soon entertaining us with some good stories and titbits of history. The walk started just outside the city centre proper and we walked towards the Kremlin.
In the beginning history of Moscow the only stone buildings were the ones inside the Kremlin itself and those outside were all wooden. The city of Moscow is also built in a circular manner with the Kremlin at the middle and everything spanning out from there. The centre is filled with stately buildings and a seemingly endless number of churches with “onion spires” on top.
The walk took us passed some of the older churches including the Romanov’s own private church and residences but unfortunately there is a fair amount of construction going on around them at the moment so the views weren’t fantastic. However the park which is being constructed looks like it’s going to make the whole area very spectacular so maybe we will have to come back after 2018 when it’s finished. It was interesting to find out that during the communist era the churches were closed as religious buildings and used for other functions instead. Some were schools and others state buildings but some were used by the KGB!
The tour took us back to the Red Square but it was nice to go back and this time get the history of the buildings even if by this stage we were absolutely freezing cold! We got to see St Basil’s cathedral again but this time found out that it was built by Ivan the Terrible and named after a homeless man called Basil who used to preach to people in the area. Ivan also ensured that the cathedral wouldn’t be surpassed by blinding all the architects who were involved in its construction!! Not the first time we have heard this tactic being used.
Luckily we then were able to warm up in another of the buildings lining the Red Square which is known as the Gum building (short for something Russian which I can’t remember) but it was originally built to house the markets which used to operate in the square. It has gone from being a place for the people to shop during the communist era to being bought out by all the top brand shops now. In fact this has happened all over Moscow with hotels buying old apartment buildings and the area we are staying in is the Mayfair of Moscow full of designer brands and flash restaurants. It has to be said though that a lot of the restaurants aren’t as expensive as other major cities around the world.
The tour finished and we had to get inside to warm up and so went to a Soviet style restaurant which is similar to a canteen where you pick what you want and usually have a few courses. It’s pretty cheap and very popular with the locals and in no time we were defrosted and ready to head back out again to see the Kremlin.
The tall red brick walls surrounding the Kremlin are quite imposing and you certainly feel like you are entering a secured area as you pass through metal detectors and police cordons. Once inside I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It is actually a functional area and Putin still holds office there. It is said that when the flag is flying on the state building he is meant to be inside the Kremlin but our guide reckoned that she has never seen the flag not flying and that a better indication of his whereabouts might be the presence of his helicopter on the newly built helicopter pad.
Apart from the state buildings the main sights are the Annunciation, the Archangel and the Assumption cathedrals. These are splendidly white topped with golden onion spires but unfortunately for us there was a little bit of scaffolding around the place too but it didn’t really detract from the impressive nature of the cathedrals. The most impressive part of the cathedrals was the interior anyway as they were all covered from floor to ceiling with fresco paintings.
Ivan the Great Bell Tower was meant to be worth climbing for views of the city but unfortunately was shut so we contented ourselves with a short walk through the gardens on our way to the Armoury. This building housed a collection of artefacts from Russia’s history. We got to see loads of artefacts. Some of the most impressive were some splendid horse drawn carriages from the 1600s which were incredibly ornate. The guns they used were more works of art than I would have imagined and the designs were really quite intricate. We got to see some Faberge eggs and a whole host of extravagant cups, chalices and other decorative items.
On the whole it was a great, if not cold, day and we have still only seen a few square kilometres of Moscow’s city centre but perhaps some of its most famous square kilometres. I have to admit that I have always wanted to visit the Kremlin and the Red Square. It certainly has been an impressive sight and definitely has an aura of Communist power about it whilst also being beautiful in its appearance. T
The private church of the Romanovs.
St Basil’s from behind.
Lenin’s mausoleum in the Red Square.
It’s difficult to imagine that this building was once built for markets its opulence seems to lend itself more towards the flash shops which now inhabit it.
The Archangel Cathedral.
The Assumption Cathedral on the left and Ivan the Great Bell Tower.
The park in the Red Square.